The European Union Competition Commissioner has just announced that Google’s latest round of proposals in the EU antitrust case were “unacceptable”. Commissioner Joaquin Almunia has said that the rival links proposal, which was a part of the second set of proposals made by Google in an attempt to settle the case, was not good enough. Google must find a better way to give equal treatment to competitors versus their own content in vertical searches.
Almunia was involved in the negotiation of the original proposal, which was condemned by European competitors almost immediately. The proposal was put to the test and rivals were given the opportunity to comment on it. Google then came back with the proposal to display three “rival links” on the results pages for certain verticals. The lobbying group FairSearch conducted a study on that system and argued that the results showed that those links did very little to drive traffic to the alternative services. The modified proposals do not address that problem.
Google’s Properties In The Spotlight
A second study conducted by the Institute of Communication and Media Research in Germany found that Google’s rival links are positioned poorly on the page. The study used eye tracking technology to determine which areas of the page got the most attention, and found that Google’s sponsored results were the most prominent part of the page, and got the most attention from visitors. Organic links got a negligible amount of attention from visitors, and the alternative search sites, or “rival links” did not attract enough attention from visitors to generate a significant number of click-throughs.
The combined research results from ICOMPand FairSearch indicate that Google’s latest proposal is not sufficient to answer the concerns of the competition commission. The competition commission reviewed the results carefully, and will of course have taken into account that both studies were conducted by organizations that have indicated they want to see Google restrained in a number of ways. The European Commission will be discussing another proposal with Google.
At this stage, it is unclear whether Google will be willing to go through another back-and-forth, or whether they will decide that the restrictions would be too great and they should simply risk being fined by the commission. The company has accepted fines from other territories, if the alternative would be to place too many restrictions on their business.